BUSINESS

Travis Kalanick Takes Leaves Of Absence From Post As Uber CEO

The executive's mother died in a boating accident last month.

13/06/2017 10:37 PM IST | Updated 14/06/2017 3:39 AM IST

Travis Kalanick will take a leave of absence from his post as CEO of Uber, he said on Tuesday. The move comes after months of scrutiny into Uber’s workplace culture and criticism of Kalanick’s leadership, and also his mother’s death late last month.

In an email provided to HuffPost, Kalanick wrote that he was taking the time off to grieve for his mother and did not indicate when he’d return. 

“For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team,” he wrote. “But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

Read Kalanick’s full email below.

A report about the company’s practices, also made public on Tuesday, suggests that Uber “review and reallocate the responsibilities” Kalanick had.  

Uber hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an investigation following allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment in the workplace. The report called on the company’s board of directors to “evaluate the extent to which some of the responsibilities that Mr. Kalanick has historically possessed should be shared or given outright to other members of senior management.”

Kalanick said in his email that his leadership team would be running the company while he is gone. He has limited his public comments since his mother was killed and his father injured in a boating accident in May.

Tuesday’s report makes sweeping recommendations to improve Uber’s internal structure, from calling for more accountability for senior leaders to suggesting the company rewrite its policy to prohibit romantic relationships between managers and their reports.

Uber’s board of directors unanimously accepted the report’s recommendations at a Sunday meeting. Implementing them will “ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement.

The board had also discussed a leadership shakeup ― including a leave of absence for Kalanick ― amid a period of intense turbulence for the ride-hailing company and a time of personal tragedy for the embattled executive

If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0. Travis Kalanick

Kalanick founded Uber in 2009 as a scrappy startup that eventually grew into a taxi-killing behemoth valued at nearly $70 billionBut the 40-year-old has also faced torrents of criticism over Uber’s toxic workplace environment and his personal behavior.

In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a tell-all blog post about the company’s sexist culture that went viral. Fowler described being solicited for sex by a male manager, discriminated against by management and stonewalled by human resources for reporting the conduct of male employees there.

In response to the allegations, Kalanick tapped Holder to lead an investigation into Uber’s practices with help from board member and former HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington. Uber also hired a separate law firm, Perkins Coie, to specifically investigate sexual harassment and other workplace complaints by Fowler and other individuals.

After Fowler’s allegations became public, two of Uber’s earliest investors, Mitch and Freada Kapor, spoke out and urged the company to switch gears.

“Uber’s outsize success in terms of growth of market share, revenues and valuation are impressive, but can never excuse a culture plagued by disrespect, exclusionary cliques, lack of diversity, and tolerance for bullying and harassment of every form,” the two wrote in February.

“Uber has had countless opportunities to do the right thing ,” they added. “We feel we have hit a dead end.”

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks in London on Oct. 3, 2014.

In another sign of faltering confidence within the company, Uber President Jeff Jones abruptly quit after just six months on the job in March, saying his “beliefs and approach to leadership” were apparently incompatible with Uber’s. 

In June, Perkins Coie’s investigation prompted Uber to fire 20 employees. The law firm looked at 215 claims about discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and unprofessional behavior. One hundred claims resulted in no action; 31 required employees to receive additional training; seven prompted written warnings; and 57 remained under review. 

“Culture changes have been well underway at the company for months now,” an Uber spokeswoman told HuffPost after the firings. “Moving forward, we’re more committed than ever to turning the page. We want to change.”

The company hired three high-level female leaders to address its management issues, serve as an independent voice on the board and help repair the company’s public image

The criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. Travis Kalanick, Uber founder

But one of the biggest threats to the company’s brand has been Kalanick himself.

In June, Recode published an email Kalanick wrote to employees in 2013 ahead of a company-wide celebration. The email contained profanities, laid out rules for having sex with fellow employees and warned of a “$200 puke charge.”

Earlier this year, Kalanick was widely criticized after he was caught on tape berating an Uber driverThe video shows Kalanick discussing the company’s fare structure with Uber “black car” driver Fawzi Kamel at the end of a ride. Kamel, who purchased a nicer car to drive for the upscale “black” service, tells Kalanick he “lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you.”

In response, Kalanick fires back, “You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”

“Good luck,” Kalanick adds, sarcastically, before slamming the door.

Kalanick acknowledged that he needed help in an apology he wrote to employees after the video surfaced.

“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me ― and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” he wrote. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.” 

Uber has also struggled with issues beyond its corporate culture

In January, Uber faced backlash for appearing to break a New York City taxi picket line formed in solidarity with protests over President Donald Trump’s travel ban. The hashtag #DeleteUber went viral and more than 200,000 people deleted the Uber app from their phones. The protest was only quelled once Kalanick announced he’d resign from Trump’s economic advisory council.

The company is also fighting a lawsuit to continue its self-driving car program. Meanwhile, Uber competitor Lyft has continued to pick up steam

Read Kalanick’s full email announcing his leave here: 

Team,

For the last eight years my life has always been about Uber. Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.

The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.

During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company. I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly.

It’s hard to put a timeline on this - it may be shorter or longer than we might expect. Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes. The incredible outpouring of heartfelt notes and condolences from all of you have kept me strong but almost universally they have ended with ‘How can I help?’. My answer is simple. Do your life’s work in service to our mission. That gives me time with family. Put people first, that is my mom’s legacy. And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great.

See you soon,
Travis

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